Late rains put promise back into EP crops

Late rains put promise back into EP crops

Cropping
SPREADING RISK: Michael Agars follows a farming program on Yattarna, Lock, that allows him to spread risk and match certain crops to their ideal soil type.

SPREADING RISK: Michael Agars follows a farming program on Yattarna, Lock, that allows him to spread risk and match certain crops to their ideal soil type.

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THE ability to salvage what is predicted to be near-average yields across northern Eyre Peninsula is credit to local croppers' adoption of improved farming systems, according to Crop Smart agronomist Daniel Bowey.

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THE ability to salvage what is predicted to be near-average yields across northern Eyre Peninsula is credit to local croppers' adoption of improved farming systems, according to Crop Smart agronomist Daniel Bowey.

Mr Bowey, Lock, said advancements in crop nutrition and varieties, crop sequences and rotations as well as weeds, pest and disease management had helped farmers navigate through the dry winter and early spring.

He said minimal rain for four weeks leading up to September 21 meant crops regressed quickly due to a lack of subsoil moisture.

Some were "on the way out" with below-average yields predicted before the 45 millimetres to 75mm fell across northern EP, filling grain heads and kicking crops on.

"Given the rough patch we had at the end, the season has panned out pretty well," Mr Bowey said.

"It would've been a different result 10 years ago before farming systems had improved."

Mr Bowey said three major frosts preceded the season-saving rain, causing patchy damage - up to 20 per cent in some crops, and none in others.

He said farmers had strategically cut their frosted cereals for hay and were able to forward sell and lock prices into a "relatively" strong domestic market.

"It was a kick in the guts, but they were able to salvage something from it," he said.

Mr Bowey said it was the second consecutive year that frost had caused crops to be cut, which the "older farmers" would say had been rare on northern EP in the past 20 years.

He said croppers using no-till practices were sowing earlier to maximise growing season rain.

But this heightened the risk of damage as crops were flowering at times most prone to frost.

"There has been a lot of talk about croppers choosing to sow longer-season wheat varieties to avoid the frost," Mr Bowey said.

"But I believe farmers will keep choosing the higher-yielding, shorter-growing varieties.

"Crops aren't being wiped out and, at worst, farmers have a domestic hay market to fall back on."

On eastern EP, Landmark Cleve agronomist Martin Lovegrove said early-sown crops were yielding below average, but "surprisingly" well given the challenging season.

To-date, peas are averaging 1 tonne a hectare, with "good quality" wheat and barley at 1t/ha to 2.5t/ha.

"It is amazing really, given the year we've had," he said.

"It is significantly higher than what we thought we would get for the season.

"Six weeks ago, we didn't think we would be harvesting much at all."

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Mr Lovegrove said an unprecedented amount of frosted cereals had been cut for hay, with most farmers securing solid prices on the domestic market - a "silver lining" for the district.

"This is a year we will look forward to putting behind us," he said.

"At the moment, at the start of harvest with the crops yielding surprisingly well, moods are high.

"Let's hope we're all still smiling at the end."

A dry winter and early spring across Lower EP will see yields there right on average, if not slightly below, according to Carrs' Seeds agronomist Denis Pedler, Cummins.

He said 320mm had fallen in the growing season, which was slightly below average.

"We have been lucky to have had favourable conditions for nearly all the growing season," he said.

"Yields will be close to average."

Mr Pedler said an average amount of hay was cut this year for non-herbicide weed control, to sell domestically and for homegrown feed.

Landmark Wudinna sales agronomy manager Leigh Davis said the harvest had produced three scenarios in his patch - above average in Streaky Bay, average in Wudinna and below average in Kimba.

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He said early-sown wheat and barley crops, which had been harvested "on the earlier side", were returning an average 1.8-2t/ha, with peas hitting 1t/ha.

"The 50mm we got on September 20 certainly helped more than it harmed.

"It was a massive benefit for the cereal crops."

Season of all sorts at Lock

"CHALLENGING" is how Michael Agars, Yattarna, Lock, describes this season.

"We had dry, hot, windy days, big frosts and then inches of rain," he said.

"But, if farming was too easy, everyone would want to do it."

Mr Agars grows 900 hectares of wheat and 600ha of barley, with canola, lentils, lupins, vetch, chickpeas and field peas covering the 300ha balance.

He said following this farming program allowed him to spread his risks and match certain crops to their ideal soil type, which range from sandy loam to loam to a grey heavy loam on Yattarna.

Mr Agars began harvest with field peas on October 23 and he hopes wheat and barley, unaffected by frost, will return average yields.

"Last year was better for us," he said.

"The crops were thick and lush and hay yielded 3 tonnes a hectare to 5t/ha in 2018, compared with 2t/ha to 4.5t/ha this year."

Mr Agars sowed crops into 20 millimetres of rain that fell on May 1.

Falls were reasonable, but below average in June and July, while only 14mm fell in August.

It was then dry until 70mm fell on September 20, which Mr Agars said benefitted crops that had avoided frost three days earlier.

He was able to pre-sell the 350ha of frosted crops cut to hay to the same customers as last year.

"The frost took the fun out of our wheat in plenty of places that we will endeavor to work around," Mr Agars said.

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